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The Runaway Returns by HPForevermore
Chapter 12 : Out of the Blue
 
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 7


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A/N: I may come back and add some chapters of the last thirty months, or perhaps not.  Let me know what you think!

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“I still can’t believe Mum’s letting Ron live with you!”  Ginny exclaimed as she and Hermione stepped out of the blustery winter air and into the warmth of a home furnishings shop in Hogsmeade.  She still couldn’t figure out why Hermione asked her to come along on this little shopping trip.  She was dreadful when it came to ‘domestic’ matters.  Despite her mum’s best efforts, having been poor most of her life and having been raised in a house full of boys resulted in Ginny’s failure to fully understand and appreciate such things.

“Ginny, we’ve been dating for close to three years now.”

“All the same, no ring yet.  Speaking of, when is my blast-ended skrewt of a brother going to make an honest woman of you?”

“Ginerva Weasley!  Are you saying I’m not an honest woman?” Hermione asked with mock indignity.

“You know what I mean,” Ginny replied with a smile.

“It’s just a matter of time.  We talked about it, but Ron’s been too busy with auror missions and Death Eater trials.  And I’ve been up to my ears in it as well, what with the drafting and re-drafting of the new Centaur regulations.  There are only a handful of Death Eaters left, once they’re captured and run through the Wizengamot, we should find ourselves with loads of ‘us’ time.  Besides, Molly never complains about Percy and Audrey living together and they’re not engaged yet.”

“Sure, but could you imagine if Ernie and I announced that we were moving in together?  Mum would go ballistic!”

“Not to mention your brothers.”

“Of course, but don’t you see the double-standard?  Oh, these curtains look nice!”  Ginny paused to feel the fine lace fabric of a curtain.  

“It’s always been that way in your family though.  They have impossibly high standards for their little Ginny.  I’m amazed they even let Ernie in the house.”

“Only because they’re afraid of waking up one morning to find something ghastly in their beds… courtesy of me.”  Ginny finished with a wink.

“Now that you mention it, how are you and Ernie?”

“Good, thanks,” Ginny replied distractedly.

“But…”

“But what?”

“Oh, it’s just the way you responded.  It sounded like there was a ‘but’ coming.”

“I don’t know what you are talking about,” Ginny said dismissively.

Hermione stopped in mid-stroll and turned to Ginny, who likewise stopped.  Hermione had the hesitant look of someone afraid to break bad news.

“What?  Spill it.”

“Well, the two of you look… just happy together.”

“Of course we’re happy!  Why shouldn’t we be?  We’ve been dating for two years now.”  Hermione hesitated again, and Ginny pressed on.  “What’s eating you Hermione?  Wrackspurts again?” Ginny said with a chuckle.

“Ginny, the last thing I want is for you to be cross with me.  Please?  I’m only telling you how I feel because you’re my best friend.”

“Hermione, I may get angry with you, but I’d never let it end our friendship.  Now, out with it!”

“Okay, here goes.  I didn’t say the two of you looked happy.  I said the two of you looked ‘just happy’.  You are ‘content’ with each other, but I see no fire.  No… no passion!”

“Hermione, that happens when two people grow into a relationship.”

“True, but with you and Ernie it’s more than that.  I never really have seen the passion between the two of you.  It looks to me like you are simply floating through life, waiting for something better to come along.”

Ginny took a deep breath and glanced around the home furnishings shop uncomfortably.  Hermione was touching on a heretofore unrecognized nerve.  

“Well, it’s hard for Ernie.  He’s dating the one woman who’s still recognized by the public as ‘the ex-girlfriend of the world’s most famous Arse’.”  Hermione bristled at Ginny’s characterization of Harry, but said nothing.  “I guess it would be that way with any guy I date.  Ernie feels he constantly has to deserve me, like he’s constantly competing with ‘the Ghost of the Git’.  I tell him not to try so hard, but still.  And it doesn’t help that every time we’re at the Burrow, Mum’s sitting at the dining room table, cutting out every ‘Git’ reference that appears in the Prophet or Witch Weekly or some other rag, and putting the clippings in that blasted scrapbook she’s made.”

“I’m sure it also didn’t help when he caught you looking through said scrapbook when he made that surprise visit to the Burrow a few months ago.  And it doesn’t help that he sees Harry’s picture on your nightstand.”

“It is not a picture of Harry!” Ginny said hotly.  “It is a picture of the four of us in the Gryffindor common room!  A picture that my very good friend, the late Colin Creevey gave me!  And with regard to the scrapbook, I was not ‘looking through’ it.  I was simply cleaning up after Mum!”

“I appreciate that the picture is a very special gift from a very special friend, but you have to see Ernie’s point of view, Ginny.  What Ernie sees when he looks at that picture is you sitting on Harry’s lap and looking absolutely thrilled.  And it’s on your nightstand.”

Ginny was livid and couldn’t bear to look at Hermione.

“Ginny, please listen to me.  I understand the circumstances that brought the two of you together.  I do.  During our last year, when Ernie and the rest of the Hufflepuff quidditch team rescued you from Blaise Zabini…”

“You mean when he tried to rape me!  Merlin, may he rot in Azkaban!”

“Er, yes, please, I wasn’t trying to make light of it.”  Hermione paused to recollect her thoughts. 

“There’s a muggle term called ‘transference’.  It sometimes refers to situations in which someone develops an infatuation with a caretaker, like their healer.  They transfer, that is to say, they inadvertently ‘misplace’ their generalised notions of love and romance onto someone who has shown them care or concern, or even onto someone who was acting purely out of a sense of duty.  Like I said, it happens from time to time with healers, but it also happens with aurors, and with doctors, policemen, and firemen in the muggle world.  It even happens with the average witch or wizard who just happens to try to do the right thing – they rescue someone from a terrible situation and the person they recue falls in love with them.”

“What are you saying Hermione?  That Ernie and I are merely together because he rescued me?”

“Ginny, only you can answer that question truthfully.  I’m simply stating how things appear to me.  I could be wrong, but I don’t think I am.”  Ginny’s anger persisted, but now it was tinged with a touch of sadness as well.  “Ginny, please look at me.”

Ginny turned and Hermione drew her into a warm embrace that lasted several moments.

“I love you, Ginny.  You are my sister already, even though Ron and I are not married yet.  I only tell you all of this because I don’t want you to settle for someone.  I want you to know real love again.  You know, I still tingle from Ron’s slightest touch and I still shiver when he whispers in my ear.”  Hermione giggled at Ginny’s horrified expression.  “I know, it makes you nauseous to hear that, but he still has that effect on me.  If you’re not feeling that from a guy, then he’s not the guy.  I want you to feel the tingle.  I want you to shiver!

“Look, I like Ernie.  He’s a great guy, but if you’re not getting that tingle… those shivers from Ernie Macmillan, then you’re doing both him and yourself a disservice by staying together.  You need to find a guy that will make you feel that way again.”

Ginny let loose an incredulous snort, “Right, it’s as simple as that.  Come on, or we’ll never finish this shopping.”

“Fine.  Just promise you’ll think about what I said.”

Ginny merely nodded.  As they recommenced their shopping for flat furnishings Hermione decided to change the discussion to what she thought would be a lighter topic.

“So, how are things with the Harpies?”

“Ugh!  This conversation is going from bad to worse!”

“Why, what’s wrong?”

“It’s.  Been.  Frustrating!  No matter what I do, no matter how hard I practice, I just can’t seem to break into the starting line-up.  I’m the best reserve chaser we got, but I can’t unseat Hannah Hooks or Valmai Morgan or Alicia Spinnett.  I know Alicia is excellent, but Hannah and Valmai are getting long in the tooth.  I should have been able to take one of their places by now.  

“It’s becoming fairly obvious that Gwenog is disappointed by my lack of progress, too.  After dropping what must have been my tenth quaffle of the morning the other day at practice, I overheard her mutter something about never again trusting one of Horace Slughorn’s recommendations.”

“It’ll come.  Just keep working hard.”

~~~

Though he had appeared in Diagon Alley approximately once a fortnight for the last couple of years, the shopkeepers only knew him by sight.  As was their standard practice, the shopkeepers kept tabs on the buying habits of all of their customers and he was no exception.  He tended to appear only during off-peak hours and purchased items only of modest value: foodstuffs and basic household potions, including hangover potion – lots and lots of hangover potion.  Based on his purchasing history, most shopkeepers assumed he worked for a tavern owner.  Nonetheless, he remained a mystery to them.

He was not the only anonymous elf to appear in the alley in recent years.  There had been others, a handful at most.  With one exception, the other elves were no different than this large elf currently bouncing down Diagon Alley on this chilly spring morning.  They too purchased only items of modest value, with one exception.    The exception was one tiny elf with a high-pitched voice that could cut through the densest of fogs.  She tended to acquire only sets of casual clothing – many, many sets of casual clothing.  Oddly, the tiny elf purchased clothing of the same length, but as the months passed, the neck, chest and waist measurements kept shrinking.  In fact, after the elf’s last appearance, Madam Malkin commented that the last sets of clothing purchased would have fit snugly on a broomstick.

Encouraged by their longstanding reputation of having one of the quickest gossip grapevines in all of Britain, the shopkeepers of Diagon Alley did not hesitate to share their viewpoints regarding these nameless elves.  The consensus opinion was that the owners of these unknown elves were members of the Resistance who were still uncomfortable appearing in public because of the few Death Eaters on the loose.  

Of course, a few speculated that they were the elves of ‘The Recluse’, the latest in a long line of monikers applied to ‘The Boy Who’s Lost’, ‘The Boy Who Ran Away’, and ‘The Boy Who May Or May Not Be Dead’, Harry Potter.  Knowing of his long friendship with The Recluse, the other shopkeepers naturally pressed George Weasley for his opinion regarding the possibility of Harry owning these elves.  However, despite his own personal suspicions, George stuck with the party line – the Goblins confiscated all of Harry’s gold to pay for the Gringotts break-in and therefore could not afford an elf even if he had wanted one.

A few other shopkeepers speculated that these unknown elves belonged to Death Eaters.  However, the majority emphasized the elves’ purchasing patterns – innocuous items that would not be used in Dark Magic – and their appearances – they were too well cared-for to be the elves of Death Eaters – as evidence that they must belong to members of the Resistance.  

All the same, there were a couple of shopkeepers who preferred to keep elves from their shops unless accompanied by a witch or wizard.  These were the merchants of magical creatures.  They justified their actions by pointing to their long-held belief that elves sometimes preferred to eat live animals.  These shopkeepers were the purveyors of the finest magical creatures in all of Britain after all.  They did not operate food markets for elves.  No, it simply would not do to have elves in their shops.

Steinig was not aware of this particular bias as he entered Eeylops Owl Emporium.  After pausing inside the door to allow his eyes to adjust to the dark interior, he noticed that the shop was empty.  Strolling up to the counter, he was approached by a wizard.

“How may I help you?” asked the shopkeeper with a disingenuous smile.  House elves did not come into his store unaccompanied.

“My master requires a great owl.”

“Does he?  Well, why isn’t he or she here to choose one for him or herself?”

“Because my master asked me to do it for him!  No more questions about my master!  He requires a great owl!” Steinig responded firmly.  

The shopkeeper was taken aback.  He was not used to dealing with house elves generally, let alone one who spoke to him so boldly.  No, this elf needed to be moved along.

“Perhaps, you will be better served at another shop,” the shopkeeper replied coldly.

“No.  My master said to get a great owl and you sell great owls here.  Please get me a great owl.”

“You will not be served here!  Now leave!”

With a huff, Steinig left the shop.  He remained undaunted, however.  He would not fail his master, especially since his master had ended his friendship with firewhiskey.  Steinig’s master has become much more tolerable lately, if not downright pleasant, and the elf preferred to keep it that way.  He knew how to handle opposition like this.

A short time later, after a quick trip to an establishment further down the alley, Steinig returned to the shop and handed the shopkeeper a letter bearing the official Gringotts Bank seal.  The letter was plainly stated.

To the Management of Eeylops Owl Emporium:

Please provide the house elf bearing this note whatever products or services he requires or your accounts at the bank will be frozen and your building lease will be pulled and voided.  In short, you will be out of business.  

Sincerely,
Vidagore
Director General
Gringotts Bank

Shaken and panicky, the shopkeeper asked, “A great owl, did you say?  Oh, I didn’t get your master’s name.”

“And you will not get my master’s name.  It is forbidden!”

“So what shall I call you, then?”

“You may call me… ‘Stony’.”

“Very good, Stony, you asked for a great owl.  A Great Grey Owl?”

“Well, my master did not specify the colour, but I guess grey will do,” Steinig replied.  

Steinig left Diagon Alley shortly thereafter, with an exceptionally great owl in a cage that was nearly as large as he was.  He was back at Lionheart Manor not much more quickly than the story that had swept through Diagon Alley of how a mysterious house elf named Stony strong-armed a shopkeeper with threats of foreclosure.

~~~

“Steinig has returned with a great owl for Master Harry.”

Harry swiveled in his desk chair and nearly fell out of it.  “Bloody hell, Steinig!  I asked you to get me an owl, not a baby hippogriff!”

“Is Master Harry not pleased with Steinig?” the elf worriedly asked.

Harry sighed.  “No, it’s alright.  I just didn’t expect you to get one so large.  So you had no troubles getting the owl?”

“None that Steinig couldn’t handle, Master Harry.”

“So you had some trouble, then?”

Steinig hesitated a moment before answering, “The shopkeeper refused to serve Steinig at first, but then he relented.”

“And what did you say or do to make him relent?”  Harry asked warily.

“Steinig left the store and went to Gringotts, where Vidagore wrote a letter to the shopkeeper, asking him to serve me.”

Harry was even more wary now.  “And what did the letter say, Steinig?”

“Steinig does not know.  Steinig did not read the letter, but the shopkeeper could not be more helpful afterwards.”

Harry was a touch incensed.  He knew Steinig did not know any better and was simply carrying out Harry’s instructions.  However, Harry also knew that asking Vidagore to intercede in this minor squabble was like using cannon fire to kill a mosquito.

“Master needs to name him,” Steinig offered to break the silence.

“I don’t know.  I feel like you’re asking me to name a mountain range or something.  What do you suggest?”

“Steinig does not know how to respond to that, Master Harry.”

“Er, okay.  If you were going to name him, what would you name him?”

“Perhaps, ‘Mountain’?”

“I don’t want to name him ‘Mountain’.  What else you got?”  Harry replied.

“Perhaps, ‘Yama’?”

“’Yama’?  I like it!  What does it mean?”

“It means ‘Mountain’… in Japanese.”

Harry threw his hands in the air in confusion.  “Fine, we’ll call him ‘Yama’.”  Harry unsteadily rose from his desk, leaning on its edges to keep his balance, as Steinig released the owl from its cage.  The bird unfurled its enormous wings and fluttered to the top of the desk.  Harry slowly made his way around his desk to the far side and approached Yama, cautiously raising a hand to the giant owl.

“Are you alright with being called ‘Yama’?”  The bird gave Harry an affectionate nip.  “’Yama’ it is, then.  Yama, I need you to deliver this letter.  No need to wait for a response.  Understood?”

The owl gave Harry another affectionate nip as Steinig attached the letter to the owl’s small-tree-branch-sized leg.  Spreading its wings again, Yama fluttered out of study’s window and soared away.

~~~

A shriek and the sound of breaking china startled Mr. Granger, Ron and Hermione from their discussion of the young couple’s engagement and wedding plans.  As the three stood to run to the kitchen of the Granger home, Mrs. Granger came storming out of it.  “There is a buzzard trying to get in through the kitchen window!” she shouted.

Ron and Hermione proceeded to kitchen to see for themselves what the excitement was about.  Standing in the window box attached to the outer sill of the closed kitchen window was…

“Is that an owl?” Ron asked in near disbelief.

“A bloody big owl!” said Hermione.  She walked over to the window, slid it open, and stood aside.  The bird folded its wings close to its body, squeezed through the window, and hopped to the interior sill.  From there it flew to the table where it held out its leg.  Ron warily approached the owl, which gave him an imperious and impatient glare.  He hastily removed the letter and quickly jumped away in awe of the size of the owl.  Its post delivered, the owl flew to the interior windowsill, tucked its wings in tight, squeezed through to the outer sill, and flew away.

Mr. and Mrs. Granger entered the kitchen as Hermione was closing the window, while Ron just stood there watching the bird fly away.

“What was that thing?”  Mrs. Granger asked.

“An owl.  A really, really, really big owl,” replied Hermione.  She too stood there watching the bird fly away for a moment before waiving her wand and repairing the china tea cups that shattered on the Grangers’ kitchen floor.

“You wizards and your bloody owls!” said Mr. Granger none too pleasantly.

“Believe me, Mr. Granger.  Never in my life have I seen an owl that big before!” Ron commented.

“But what did it want?” asked Ms. Granger as the four gathered around the table, taking seats.

“Oh, it was delivering this letter,” said Ron, just now realizing what he was holding in his hand.  He opened and read it.  And read it again, and again.

“Well, Ron,” said Hermione with a small giggle, “what does it say?”

Ron just sat there, staring at the letter as if he hadn’t heard a sound.  His face was devoid of emotion.  Hermione pulled the letter from Ron’s hand and read it.

Dear Ron and Hermione,

I just wanted to extend my congratulations to the both of you on your engagement and upcoming wedding!  I wish you lifelong love and happiness!

Your Friend,
Harry

“Oh, My!” Hermione whispered.  “Oh, Oh, Merlin!”

“What is it, dear?” ask Mrs. Granger, slightly worried.

“It’s… it’s from Harry,” said Hermione

“Harry?” asked Mrs. Granger.

“You mean that friend of yours who disappeared after the war?  The one no one’s been able to find?” asked Mr. Granger.

“What did he say?” asked Mrs. Granger.

“He’s, umm, congratulating us on our engagement and wedding.”

“You don’t sound too happy about it,” Mrs. Granger said.

“What?  Oh, no, I mean, yes!  I’m happy to hear from him.  It’s just… It’s just he disappeared off the face of the planet.  Every single witch and wizard in the world has been trying to find him, none more so than us.  The wizarding press has been having a field day for three years speculating on whether or not he died and, if not, where he might be.”

Hermione paused to glance through the letter again with a shaking head.

“The Ministry assigned its best aurors to try to track him down, but they couldn’t find a trace of him.  They even contacted foreign ministries to have their aurors search for him overseas.  Nothing.  Now, here, out of the blue, Harry sends us this letter.  It’s just… I… I don’t know what to think.”

“Perhaps you should talk to Ron’s parents about it,” offered Mr. Granger.

“I agree with your dad, 'Mione.  We should tell Mum and Dad.”

“Yes.  No.  Wait, no.  Not your Mum.  You know what she’s been like ever since she first found out Harry was gone.  If she finds out about this letter, there’s no telling how she’ll react.  No, just give the letter to Arthur… discreetly.  This Saturday when we go over for dinner, tell him you want to talk to him in private.  Say it’s man-to-man stuff if your Mum asks.  Your Dad, he’ll handle this better than your Mum.”

“Yeah, your right.  Mum will go loony if she finds out about this.”

~~~

Ron and Hermione arrived at the Burrow on Saturday at around three in the afternoon after putting time in at the Ministry earlier in the day.  They entered the kitchen, finding Molly serving a late lunch to a freshly washed Ginny who had come home from quidditch practice a short time before.

“What’s going on, Ron?  Hermione?” Ginny asked through mouthfuls of a sandwich.  

“Hi Ginny!” said Hermione cheerfully while Ron just nodded to his sister.  He clearly had something on his mind.  Molly caught the expression on his face.

“Is everything alright, Ronald?” asked Molly.

“Yeah, er, everything’s fine, Mum.  Is Dad around?  I need to talk to him.  Er, guy stuff.” Ron said nervously, soliciting a chuckle and a sly grin from Ginny, which in turn solicited a bit of a warning glare from Molly.

“He’s in his shed tinkering with some of his new muggle rubbish, dear.  I really wish he would stop bring that clutter home.  He doesn’t even work in the Misuse of Muggle Artifacts Department anymore!”

“Thanks, Mum!” Ron replied as he bustled out the door.  He walked around to the back of the New Burrow.  It was a warm spring afternoon.  It was a shame that more of his brothers weren’t around.  It was a great day for flying and he would have loved a quick game of quidditch before dinner.  Ron knocked on the jamb of the open doorway and called out to his father.

“Ron!  Come here!  I found this cellytone thing!  Muggles use this to talk to each other now… no more fellytones!  Amazing, those muggles!”

“Umm, they’re called ‘cell phones’, and muggles used to use ‘telephones’, not ‘fellytones’.  Actually, many muggles still use telephones.”

“Oh, right, telephones.”  Mr. Weasley could never get that right.

“Umm, Dad?  I have something I need to talk to you about”

“I already gave you the talk about the ‘bats and the beetles’ and I don’t want to have to do it again, thank you very much!” chuckled Arthur.

“Yeah, right, and thank you for that by the way.  No, this is something else.”  Ron reached into his pocket and pulled out the letter from Harry, handing it to Arthur.

“What’s this?” Arthur asked as he took the letter from Ron and sat on the edge of his workbench.  After a moment he gasped, “Harry!”

“Yeah, 'Mione and I thought it was best to keep this under wraps, away from Mum and everyone else.  Maybe you could talk to Kingsley about it, you know, on the sly.”

Arthur thought contemplatively for a moment, then nodded and said, “Yes, perhaps you two are right.  I’ll talk to Kingsley about this on Monday.”  Arthur tucked the letter into a partially dismantled microwave oven sitting on one of his workbenches.

“Don’t forget it’s in there,” said Ron with a cheeky grin.

“Oh, I won’t have any trouble remembering this!” replied Mr. Weasley.

~~~

Arthur strolled through Diagon Alley, nodding his greetings to several shopkeepers and customers.  The alley was busy, as was expected for a Saturday afternoon, but he had no time to stop and chat with anyone.  He wanted to be sure he arrived on time and his destination was at the far end of the street.  After passing the Magical Menagerie on his right, Arthur began taking notice of the addresses on the left side of the street.  Many of the buildings at this end of the alley remained empty since the war, but several of those had signs in their windows announcing the planned opening of some shop or other.  

Pausing at the last abandoned building on the left, just before the junk shop, Arthur surveyed his surroundings.  There were only a half-dozen or so shoppers at this end of the alley and all were minding their own business. He approached the wooden door and opened it.  The handle was loose from the rot that had set into the wood through the numerous cracks and chips in the paint, but it still functioned.  

Inside the door, Arthur cast a ‘Homenum Revelio’ spell and discovered the flat above the vacant shop was likewise empty.  He ascended the rickety steps carefully, fearful of falling through the treads.  At the top of the stairs, he opened the door and entered the dim, dusty, musty parlor.

Arthur waited for Harry to arrive.  Peering out of the parlor window over the old couch that at one time was probably of a very high quality, he watched the entrance to Olivander’s Wand Shop across the alley.  He fleetingly wondered whether this was the place where Harry hid from the wizarding world for the last three years – hidden in plain sight – but then he thought better of it.  No one has lived in this rat hole in quite a long time.

It had taken several post exchanges over the first few days to get Harry to so much as respond to his letters, and several more over the following couple of days to convince Harry to meet with him.  Arthur was as flexible as possible with Harry – they would meet at any time and place of Harry’s choosing.  Arthur would bring no one, not even Kingsley or Molly or Ron or Hermione.  Arthur assured him time and again that he simply wanted to know whether Harry was truly alive.  He just wanted to speak with him – just once – so he can rest easier.  Harry eventually relented to the meeting.  Now, here he was, awaiting the son he hasn’t seen in three years.

He heard a ‘pop’ behind him that announced Harry’s arrival.

Turning around, Arthur was so startled at the sight that greeted him that he tried to reach for his wand and wound up stumbling backward onto the couch.  The visitor held out his hand and with a flick of the wrist, silently disarmed him.  

“Who are you?” Arthur demanded to know.

The ghastly-looking visitor, wearing solid black robes, hobbled over to a nearby armchair with no sound other than the ‘cluck, cluck, clunk’ of his walking stick.  He fell into it looking exhausted.  Arthur couldn’t make out the visitor’s face.  What at first he thought to be a balaclava was actually the visitor’s hair.  Long, wavy, stringy, greasy hair fell to the visitor’s chest.

A raspy voice spoke to Arthur, “I was hoping for a better reception than that, Mr. Weasley.”

“Harry?” Arthur choked.

Harry threw the wand back to Arthur and pulled his long hair back over his shoulders.  Arthur still wasn’t sure who it was.  He leaned forward to look more closely at the body before him.  Arthur felt as though he was looking into the tomb of someone who’d died, and who’d not died recently.  Whatever skin that wasn’t covered by robes or hair, or the scraggly beard that fell below his collarbone, was ghostly white and hung limply from bones.  Any flesh that had once lain underneath the skin was apparently gone now.  The figure before Arthur appeared to be a skeleton over which someone had draped some hairy gauze.  Looking into the face of the visitor, Arthur saw the scar that had always announced Harry’s identity, as well as the once clear and vivid, but now lifeless, blood-shot, and jaundiced emerald green eyes of Lily Potter.

“Oh, Dear Merlin!  Harry?  Son, we need to get you some help!”

“And here I thought I was doing better,” Harry replied with a weak smile.

“Please, Harry!  Please let us help you!  We’ve all missed you terribly and want you home.  And you need someone to take of you, not to place too fine a point on it!”

“Oh, I’m certain not everyone will be pleased to see me.”

“Harry, you let Molly and me take care of that.  Please, for the love of Merlin!  Come home with me!”

“Mr. Weasley, you know I can’t go back.”

“I understand your reasoning Harry, but frankly I never did agree with it.”

“I’m a danger to anyone I’m near!”

“And we’re willing to accept that risk Harry.  Besides, the Death Eaters are gone now.  There is no more threat.  We’re all safe and we’re all rebuilding our lives now.  And… and we want you to be part of that, but it hurts me… us… so much to know that here you are, struggling, sickly, and you refuse to let us help you!”

“The threat’s not gone, Mr. Weasley.  There will always be others.”

“Maybe.  Sure, there will always be some idiot trying to become the next Voldemort.  But we can’t hide ourselves away forever.  You can’t hide yourself away forever.  This,” Mr. Weasley said, gesturing to Harry’s overall condition, “this is no way to live Harry.”

“I’m sorry Mr. Weasley, I just can’t go back.”

“Why on earth not?”

“I can’t.  I can’t face it, Fred, Remus, Tonks!  So many people died.  And… and it’s all my fault!  Can’t you see that!  If I could have just found the Horcruxes sooner.  If I could only have gotten to them and destroyed them, then they’d all be alive today!  I don’t deserve to be here.  They do!  How can I face you and Mrs. Weasley and Bill and… and Charlie… and George… and, and Ginny!  Merlin, I’ve destroyed so many lives!”

“Oh, Harry,” Arthur paused to take a deep breath, “I want you to listen to me very closely.  Are you at least willing to listen to what I have to say?”

Harry nodded slowly.

“Harry, you did not destroy anyone’s lives.  Voldemort did!  You saved so many lives.  And Fred, and Remus and Tonks, and all the others who fought.  They did so willingly, freely.  They weren’t forced to fight.  They wanted to fight.  Just like you did!  It was war, Harry, and in war, people die.  Please, Harry!  Keep the focus of the evil on where it should be, on Voldemort and the Death EatersThey were the bad guys, Harry!  Not you!

“But Mr. Weasley, how can I just show up now, three years later?  What am I supposed to do?  Shrug my shoulders and say, ‘Sorry.  I screwed up.  I just wasn’t quick enough.  Oh, well.’”

“Baby steps, son, baby steps.  Just come with me to the Burrow tonight for dinner.  Nothing more.  Sure, you might not get the warmest greeting from some, but… let’s just call it an exploratory meeting.  Feel each other out.  Slowly, eventually, things will settle back to normal.  You’ll see.”

“No.  It’s too much too soon.”  

“Trust me, Harry.  It’ll be okay.  Kingsley will be with us.  He’s supposed to be coming to dinner, too.  I’ll send him a patronus to meet us here and the three of us can head over together.  What do you say?”

Harry shook his head, “Look, I understand that everyone is moving on with their lives and I’m trying to do that, too.  My sending Ron and Hermione my congratulations?  That’s all it was.  I’m not looking to come back into anyone’s lives.  I’m not looking to jump back into the fray of the wizarding world.  I was simply telling Ron and Hermione how happy I was for them.  Nothing more.”

“Please, Harry.  If you won’t come back for me, or for yourself, at least come back for Molly’s sake.  She’s been devastated since you left, son.  Please?  For Molly?  Just this once?  For all intents and purposes, she’s your mother, and your staying away… it… it… Ugh!  Words cannot describe how… how heartbroken she’s been!  For the last three years she’s been keeping a scrapbook of you, you know.  Every day, she scours every newspaper and magazine she can get her hands on for the smallest mention of your name.  Every night, she lies awake, wracking her brain for the slightest bit of inspiration as to where you might be.  She needs to see you, son!”

Harry remained silent.  He would not look Mr. Weasley in the eye, but Arthur watched the tear trickle into Harry’s beard.  Arthur continued his plea.

“Please, it will do her a world of good just to see you once!  Please, Harry, I’m begging you!”

Harry sat for several moments before resignedly nodding his agreement.  Arthur sent his patronus to Kingsley after minutes of repeated ‘thank yous’, and while they waited Arthur had something he just had to ask.  

“So, how did you do that, Harry?”

“Sorry, do what?”

“The wandless magic, where’d you learn to do that?  That’s exceptional!”

Harry just shrugged his shoulders and said “Dunno” as a ‘pop’ announced Kingsley’s arrival at the flat.
 
 


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